Sunday, July 19, 2015

Chatfield State Park Flooding

Colorado has seen a lot of rain and moisture so far in 2015.  This spring brought more showers than we typically see.  The normal drier weather that we see as summer comes around never really came.  The cooler temperatures and rain continued well into the month of July.  Many of Colorado's reservoirs and lakes have received enough water this year to bring levels up to full capacity or even higher. 
The morning of July 5, 2015, I took a drive through Chatfield State Park to take a look at the flooding.  The US Army Corps of Engineers constructed the Chatfield dam beginning in 1967 to curb flooding issues downstream.  The lake was later leased to the Colorado State Parks to allow recreational use of the water and surrounding area. 
As you drive by the park on C-470, it's easy to notice that the dam holding the water back is much taller and more massive than is necessary for the typical water volume held in the reservoir.  The dams at Chatfield, Cherry Creek State Park and Bear Creek were designed to prevent flooding throughout the Denver area in the event of 100 year floods, the exact kind of rain fall and precipitation we received in 2013. 
As I drove through the park on July 5, I wasn't witnessing a 100 year flood, but Chatfield was still around 10-12 feet higher than normal.  I could tell by the high water mark that I had missed the highest water levels.  I took a few photos as the sun was coming up to show the extent of the flooding along the west side of the park.
Chatfield State Park north boat ramp during high water.
The water line at the north boat ramp was nearly to the top of the launcheable area.  In fact, the slope at this part of the ramp barely seemed steep enough to launch a small boat.  It seemed unlikely that a larger boat could be launched without backing the tow vehicle well into the water.  I spoke to the gentleman that launched his boat (as seen at the end of the ramp).  He commented that he wouldn't want to try to launch a larger boat at the current water levels.  I could see that the high water mark in this area was into the turn around area above the ramp, which resulted in the ramps being closed the weekend before.  While I was there the south ramps were still closed.  The lack of room at the north ramps and closed south ramps led to long delays for the 4th of July crowd trying to boat at the reservior.

These next two photos show part of the shoreline along one of the picnic areas on the west side of the park.  Normally the waterline is on the other side of the treeline and there are picnic tables and fire grills in the trees.  In the photo below you can see the top of a fire grill if you look closely in the ridge edge of the open, orange colored section of water.  In the photo to the right, the entire foreground area was within the previous highwater mark as evidence by the matted, pushed over grasses.  For the fishermen, I'm sure the bass in the lake are appreciating the new cover areas available with the submerged shorline and trees.  I noticed some bird watchers out taking advantage of the hundreds of birds that seem to have flocked to the area to take advantage of the extra water. 


Chatfield State Park flooded west shoreline.  Note the top of a fire grill in the water towards the center of the photo.

One of the bigger questions is the long term affects of the high water.  Portions of the road that goes along the southern part of the lake were underwater and the Colorado State Parks has already started working to repair the roadways that were damaged by the high water.  In addition to the roads, other infrastrucure was submerged due to the high water.  The above fire pits and picnic tables may require repairs.  The bigger issue is more substantial infrastructure that was submerged underwater.  Below is a photo taken from the swim beach parking area:
Chatfield State Park swim beach flooded and under water.
The entire swim beach is now underwater, to include the bathrooms that are nearby.  While the entire building is not completely underwater, it's safe to say that enough water is around the buildings to cause serious concerns for the restrooms.
For now the waters are receeding and the park is working to return to normal operations. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Matthew Winters Open Space

Colorado's Front Range has numerous opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and other outdoor activities.  Among the many places to get outside and enjoy miles of trails are the Jefferson County Open Space parks.  Owned by Jefferson County and free to use, these parks offer a wide variety of recreation opportunities for just about everyone.  

One of the most popular Open Space parks is Matthew Winters Park.  It is easy to get to, located just off of I-70 and next to the Red Rocks Amphitheater.  The trails offer opportunities for hiking,  mountain biking and horseback riding.  The trails can be extended by continuing south through the park and into the trails at Red Rocks, or east to Green Mountain.

Matthew Winters is located just south of I-70 on Highway 93.  To get there, you take I-70 west from Denver.  Exit at Highway 93 and go south for about .1 miles.  The park is on the west side (right as you are traveling south).  You can also continue south along Highway 93 to get to Red Rocks.  Like the other Jefferson County Open Space Parks, Matthew Winters is open from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.

Matthew Winters trail map and trailhead.

Matthew Winters Park is 1,084 acres, nestled at the base of the foothills.  There are 9.2 miles of trails available, including both multi-use trails, bike only and hiker only trails.  As you leave the parking lot, the Village Walk trail is to the right.   This trail is for hikers and horses only.  The bike only trail, Village Ride, is to the left.  These two trails meet up at the Red Rocks Trail and morph into a multi-use trail.

Don't forget, mountain bikers yield to hikers and horses.  Hikers yield to horses.  It is also courteous for down hill travelers to yield to up hill travelers.  This allows the up hill hiker or biker to keep up their momentum.  (Many up hill hikers will gladly step aside to allow themselves a short break however.)

Even with snow on the ground, the trails are well traveled and easy to follow.  Red Rocks Trail

Red Rocks Trail continues along the hillside and as the name implies, leads directly into Red Rocks Park.  If you want an additional challenge, the Morrison Slide trail switchbacks up on top of a small plateau, offering better views than you can get from down below.  On the south side of the plateau, the trails switchbacks down and meets up with the Red Rocks Trail again.  

Looking north from Matthew Winters.  Morrison Slide Trail.
From the parking lot of Matthew Winters Park, you can cross Highway 93 to the east and continue up onto the hogback.  The Dakota Ridge Trail will lead to the very top of the Hogback and provide views to the east, including Green Mountain.  Zorro Trails drops down the east side of the hogback towards the west parking lot for Green Mountain.  

Morrison Slide Trail.

Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center is another nearby attraction.  On the west side of C-470 and Alameda, this visitor center provides information about the dinosaur tracks that have been discovered along the hogback between C-470 and Highway 93.  

Looking for other hiking opportunities along the Front Range?  Check out some of these other great parks:

Hiking In Waterton Canyon
Lair O' The Bear Open Space
Chatfield State Park